When Barb Sparkes was just 5 years old, she picked out “Jingle Bells” on the piano, just playing by ear. That was in the 1930s, and the Indiana native has been playing music ever since.
She studied piano, violin and accordion and attended the Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Music in Indianapolis, now a part of Butler University.
She played “Stardust” and “Somewhere My Love” in piano bars in Indiana, places like Sandy's Town Tavern and the Martinique in Indianapolis, the Patio in Gas City and the Shamrock in Anderson.
Since moving to Birmingham in 2001, Sparkes has taken part in a jazz piano concert, performed on the Wurlitzer organ at the Alabama Theatre and entertained her fellow residents at Episcopal Place on Southside by playing such standards as "I'll Be Seeing You” and "Stars Fell on Alabama."
Sparkes had perhaps her greatest adventure during WWII, playing accordion for a USO troupe entertaining GIs in the U.S. and Europe. She was only 17 years old when she began her first tour and eventually played in 22 states, plus France and Germany.
Last year, storyteller Dolores Hydock met Sparkes and heard her play, and together the two women have created a new program called “Two Suitcases and an Accordion: Traveling with the USO Camp Shows.” Sparkes plays own arrangements of war-time standards, and she and Hydock describe her USO adventures.
The duo performs on Sunday, July 12, at 6 p.m., at the First Baptist Church of Irondale (6001 Old Leeds Road). The event is free, part of the church's “Super Summer Sundays” series, but angel-headed hipsters need not worry — there’ll be no damn praying or preaching, just the program. For information, call (205) 956-9533 or visit Hydock’s website, www.storypower.org
Sparkes and Hydock first performed at the Birmingham Public Library's Arrington Auditorum in April, as part of BPL's Brown Bag Lecture Series. The place was packed, and the mostly older crowd gave them a standing ovation.
Sparkes has also recorded a CD of Christmas music called "31 Holiday Memories for the Ones I Love." The disc includes such tunes as "Jingle Bell Rock," "Let it Snow" and "White Christmas." All proceeds from the sale of the CD, which is $10, go to Episcopal Place. A few copies are still available. For information, call (205) 939-0085